There are three places named “Nashville” in the United States. One is known for its country music, another for its Rocky Mountain landscape, and the last for its secretly preserved oasis. Indiana’s Nashville consists of two state roads and can be driven through in about two minutes- triple that during the tourist weekends of October. But most of the visiting will be easily done by foot. How can a Midwest town attract tourists for all four seasons, function on dozens of small businesses, and keep a family loyal for generations to come? The simple answer is that Nashville is the beating heart of Indiana families.
I grew up in Avon, Indiana, about an hour’s drive away from this quiet gem. As a child, I remembered how the anticipation built when the cornfields gradually turned into wooded hills that twisted the road like a chocolate swirl on a sundae. The higher the hills that we ascended, the more exciting the “tickle jump” felt in our stomachs as gravity pulled us towards Nashville. We basically drove a rollercoaster on the way there. Our annual trip took place each autumn season in a tradition that started before my sister and I were even born. Our parents met at Indiana University during their freshman year, a mere thirty minutes away from Nashville. Many collegiate crowds swing by the town for a hike, a homestyle meal, or a Friday night drink. Some college sweethearts, like my parents, return to Nashville for a cabin honeymoon. Once my sister and I could be successfully bribed by sweets, we were initiated into the treasured Indiana family tradition.
Twenty years have passed since my first steps in Nashville and a paradox of attractions keeps me coming back each year. Kids in the Midwest don’t have a Disney park or a beach nearby, so we become entertained with the changing seasons, outdoor exploring, and thrifting expeditions. Nashville offers hiking, ziplining, sledding, golfing, and private watering holes for the spontaneous cookouts on the creek. More controlled entertainment can be enjoyed in the local dance barn; Monday nights offer free line dancing lessons. During the sunnier weekends, you can walk through the painted alley and into the main audience of the Melchior Marionette Theatre where lively puppet shows are put on for children. On rainier days, the one-room movie theater can offer you a nice treat trolly while you catch a throwback film. Want a more advanced performance? Check out the Brown County Playhouse schedule for a live music set or play. For starry nights, be sure to check out Bill Monroe’s Bean Blossom Jamboree where you can listen to Bluegrass music on the lawn.
Most of the town is buzzing during the day, as most of the small shops close after seven pm. All crowds are welcome, especially dogs. Water bowls, doggie bag posts, and outdoor dining make sure that your furry family member feels included. Just be prepared for a paparazzi of fans following you around, I mean following your dog around. It’s not just the kids who clap at the sight of your pet, senior citizens will pause to introduce themselves, as well. Hoosiers have a special spot in their hearts for family pets and the popular Bone Appetit Bakery can attest to that.
While your dog parades down the main street with you, be sure to stop into as many shops as you can. They tend to be eclectic. One of my childhood’s personal favorites was the Toy Chest full of odd finds and wooden models. The Rock Shop wasn’t exactly my speed as I’d rather collect colorful magic at the Crystal Source. I enjoyed the decor shops more as I grew older. We’ve collected yard decorations throughout the years from Foxfire, charming wooden signs from Holly’s Shop, and quality cooking essentials from Madeline’s French Country Shop (a bright blue two-story Victorian home). While my mom, sister, and I indulged our fashion appetite at the Mulberry Cottage (a spiral staircase will lead you to the high-ceilinged loft with first, second, and third stories of racks of dresses), my dad would sample the dried meats at The House of Jerky and feel the wallets at Moonshine Leather Company.
Probably the best part of Nashville is the quality food that serves as your reward after all those activities. My family always started at the north end of the road, parking for free before ordering lunch at the Hobnob Corner. We’d order at the window and take our barbecue styled plates up to the rooftop deck for a bite with a view. Immediately next door is the famous yellow painted Ice Cream Cottage that offers the best blackberry cobbler flavor during the fall season. Don’t worry about the calories because by the time you reach the next food spot, you’ll have walked off the first.
The menus are simple, savory, spiced, and buttermilk plain. Most appetites can be sated, but carnivores will especially delight in Nashville eats. I can still remember my mom and I spontaneously deciding to drive down there after a bad day. We popped into a booth at That Sandwich Place and were sipping on a Coke in seconds. Fries, a hot dog, and a reuben later, my mom and I had uninterrupted quality time that allowed us to turn that sour day back into lemonade- which we also ordered. Conveniently next door was Schwab’s Fudge Shop. It was a small wooden room with a big window to display its two, thick marble tables where the fudge is smoothed and set. Schwab’s only has four flavors: vanilla, chocolate, peanut butter, and pumpkin. We religiously take two pounds back for the ride home. Fudge has a way of making you slow down to savor the sunset drive back.
When you’ve had a bad day and you are over 21, Harvest Moon Pizzeria is the joint to wait in line for. Outdoor and indoor seating allow the fire stands to be the perfect nightly ambiance. Their pizza menu is customizable and you’ll wish that you didn’t finish your table’s pie so that you could take leftovers back with you. It’s that good of pizza. A bar is upstairs with some TV screens to show the game and there’s just enough open windows and ceiling fans to keep your crowd comfortable and cozy. Students from Indiana University tend to hop on over for a while, but never worry about Nashville becoming a college town as this is the one place that stays open past seven pm. No matter what age you are, all of the prices are reasonable if not a steal. Whether you have an allowance, a student budget, or a full-time job, the costs of visiting Nashville will keep you and your bank happy.
I fantasize about my sister and me as old ladies joining the locals as they take high tea at the Sweetea’s Tea Shop. Finger foods and mismatched tea sets have a way of bringing out the Alice in Wonderland in Nashville. We could bring our grandchildren there for a formal tea party with complimentary boa scarves, stuffed animals, and lace gloves- a tradition our grandmother showed us when we were young.
Maybe when I’m older I will learn the appeal of antique thrifting, too. My parents always found a way of lingering in those shops, probably because they knew what most of those items were once used for.Either way, I know that part of my Hoosier heart will always beat in Nashville because the town represents what home is all about— having a warm place to return to during all stages of your life. I humbly invite you into our hidden gem in the painted hills of southern Indiana and I look forward to the RSVP!